Simão Zacarias has proved that unilateral shrimp eyestalk ablation isn't necessary. Photo: GAA.

Shrimp breakthrough earns global award for Stirling University researcher

University of Stirling postdoctoral researcher Simão Zacarias has been awarded this year’s Global Aquaculture Innovation Award, the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) has announced.

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Zacarias edged out two other finalists — Pablo Berner of Nuseed and Mark Luecke of Prairie AquaTech — to win the competition.

All three finalists were featured in GAA’s Global Aquaculture Advocate blog in September and presented on October 8 at GAA’s GOAL 2020 conference, held virtually. GOAL attendees voted for the winner.

No need for ablation

Zacarias’ work focused on the common and contentious shrimp-hatchery practice of ablating (removing or destroying) one of the shrimp’s two eye stalks.

His research debunked the notion that the practice results in higher egg production and showed that it actually escalates disease vulnerability.

Zacarias proved in laboratory testing that postlarvae and juveniles from non-ablated Pacific white shrimp broodstock showed higher survival rates when they were challenged with two key diseases. He also proved that a similar egg production rate can be attained without resorting to eyestalk ablation by giving broodstock, in their pre-maturation stage, high quality, nutritious feed.

David Little: "Opened the doors and showed the way" for Zacharias. Photo: FFE.

Opened the doors

“This year’s innovation award is a heart-warming example that breakthroughs can be driven by a single dedicated student enabled by the right collaborative opportunity,” said GAA president and founder George Chamberlain, one of five judges for the competition.

“Our hats go off to Dr Simão Zacarias for his life-changing decision to venture far from Mozambique and persevere in his goals, to Professor David Little of University of Stirling who opened the doors and showed him the way, and to the commercial collaborators at Seajoy in Honduras and Benchmark in Thailand, who welcomed him to use their tools.”

Zacarias said: “It is an honour to win this prestigious award, mainly as the first African to get it. This award reminds me to never give up in chasing my dreams even when they seem impossible.

“I also think that this award is a direct message to the shrimp and aquaculture industry as a whole to keep adopting stronger animal welfare practices.”

Nine-vote difference

Only nine votes separated Zacarias from the runner-up, Nuseed’s Berner. United States-based Nuseed uses genetic engineering to turn canola plants into prolific producers of omega-3 oils and other nutritionally important fatty acids.

Luecke’s Prairie AquaTech produces ME-PRO, a plant-based protein ingredient for aquaculture feeds manufactured in South Dakota, US, that has two primary goals – sustainability and digestibility. ME-PRO is short for “microbially enhanced protein.”

It is the second year that the award has been given to someone linked to Scotland. Last year the winner was Mike Forbes, head of sales and marketing at Dundee aquaculture technology supplier Ace Aquatec, whose presentation about the company’s in-water stunner won 51% of the vote at the GOAL conference in Chennai, India.